Karel Sabbe Reclaims PCT FKT… and it wasn’t even close
At 9:36 am, on Saturday, August 26, accomplished ultra-runner and dentist Karel Sabbe touched the monument at the PCT’s northern terminus at the US-Canada border. According to his website, just over 46 and a half days since he started his attempt to reclaim the supported PCT FKT, he had done just that. And while the record-breaking flight appeared to proceed smoothly from the get-go, the end result tells a tale of utter dominance.
The Belgian had previously been the supported PCT FKT holder, taking that title from Joe ‘Stringbean’ McConaughy in 2016 with a time of 52 days 7 hours, before relinquishing it in 2021. That year, Timothy Olson battled numerous fire closures to complete the entire 2,650-mile PCT less than one day faster, in 51 days 17 hours.
At the time, that incredible effort and associated challenges with reroutes left many (including this website) questioning the future of FKT’s on this great western trail. With increasingly intense, destructive, and disruptive fires in the drought-stricken Pacific states, what was an FKT worth when conditions beyond human control dictated an ever-mercurial route between Campo and Canada?
The PCT in Under 50 Days — By A Lot
In becoming the first person ever to traverse the entire PCT in under 50 days (his time is still pending verification), Sabbe has proven that perhaps it’s too early to write off record-shattering feats. Conditions this year on the trail were by no means friendly, but Sabbe nearly managed to complete the entire length without significant detours. It wasn’t until Washington’s Glacier Peak Wilderness that he needed to leave the official tread, and by that point, even the additional mileage to travel between Stehekin and Harts Pass wasn’t enough to foil the outcome. Traveling an average of roughly 57 miles per day, Sabbe didn’t just break the record — he annihilated it.
Looking at it another way, there is less time separating Olson’s previous supported record from Josh Perry’s self-support PCT FKT (4 days) than Olson and Sabbe’s new record (5 days 4 hours — don’t check my math on that). Wow.
An FKT For Every Style
FKT, short for Fastest Known Time, is a relatively modern term used to denote records that are impossible to verify with 100% accuracy. Speed records on long trails or, on that remote wilderness biking route, are by necessity self-recorded and self-reported. There are no Olympic committee members lurking in the bushes at each terminus. There are no officials from the PCTA tracking footsteps through the dirt. Who knows for certain if some anonymous piece of hiker trash hasn’t hiked the PCT in 30 days while hula-hooping and balancing a bowling ball on their head? If they didn’t throw it on the ‘gram, then how would we know?
Sabbe’s FKT was well-documented and easy to follow. An up-to-date tracker on the attempt’s official website kept curious onlookers informed of his progress hour to hour. His ‘supported’ effort allowed him access to every convenience that he or his crew could acquire along the way, which kept his carried weight to a minimum and maximized his time moving forward on the trail. There were reports from hikers of seeing his crew’s branded SUV in Walmart and Chipotle parking lots as he sped through Oregon.
In contrast to this style, there are also ‘self-supported’ and ‘unsupported’ FKT records. Those who attempt to grab these accolades must carry their own kit, similar to a classic thru-hiker. These differences might seem subtle or significant depending on who you are, but there is one common thread that connects the soul of these endeavors — these athletes, supported, unsupported, or self-supported, are all functioning at their absolute limit. The focus and skillsets might be slightly different, but the all-in attitude is consistent. Where do personal and human limits lie? No matter the style, that is what aspiring FKTers are trying to answer.
Haters Gonna Hate
Cue the naysayers. Sure, Karel Sabbe probably ate a lot more Chipotle burritos than Anish, Josh Perry, or *insert your favorite thru-hiker name here* during his flash between Mexico and Canada. Sure, he probably didn’t swim in many lakes or stop to smell the Jeffrey Pine along the way — he probably didn’t even stop for pie in Julian *gasp* — but he did achieve exactly what he set out to.
That’s awesome, and his experience on the PCT is as unique as any. Kudos to him and his team for an awesome accomplishment. Kudos to all who hike, or attempt to hike the PCT. Unless you’re pooping in the water sources, then you’re doing it right, no matter how fast you walk. Hike your own hike, or in this case, run your own FKT.
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